by Rev. Brian J. Thorson
Lessons: Hebrews 5:7-9, John 18-19
Catechism: The Seventh Petition
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Singing hymns is part of our tradition. God gave us the gift of music. It is a wonderful thing to confess the faith through song. It is written in Ephesians 5:18-20, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Christian’s prayer book—the psalter—makes frequent mention of song. Many of those prayers—the psalms—were set to music. After instituting the Lord’s Supper and before they set out for the Mount of Olives, Jesus sang a hymn with His disciples.
Martin Luther said that the second most powerful thing we have is music. The first is the Word of God. Singing is part of our tradition because in it we are singing the Word of God. In our song, we confess the faith, sing praises, or even offer our supplications to God.
I suspect that many enjoy singing Christian hymns only when they make a person feel good. But the psalter includes songs of lament. If Christian hymnody is simply aimed to make a person feel good, we have missed the point. For, as I brought up last night, Christianity is far more than a social gathering. In the same way, hymns offer far more than a good feeling.
Some hymns may really shock us when we carefully pay attention to the words. On Sunday, we sang ever so joyfully, “Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die.” Jesus does not enter Jerusalem for a big show of pomp and circumstance, but He enters Jerusalem to fulfill His Fathers will by laying down His life to take away the sins of the world.
Perhaps another shocking hymn is “Go to Dark Gethsemane” in which we boldly sing, “Mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete. ‘It is finished!’ hear Him cry; Learn from Jesus Christ to die.” Learn from Jesus Christ to die!
How much do we take those words to heart today? Perhaps more than just a few months ago, but still we have so many Christian denominations out there that would have you believe that the point of Christ and Christianity is to make you feel good, be happy, and have a comfortable life.
God didn’t send His Son to the cross so that you can have these fleeting things. If you feel good, are happy, or live a comfortable life, wonderful. Praise God. But that’s not why Jesus came. He came to be nailed to the cross, suffer the wrath of God, be forsaken by our Father in Heaven for bearing our sins, and to shed His innocent Blood.
That’s what God thinks of our sin. They aren’t little mistakes or casual weaknesses. Our sin is damning. It separates us from God. We not only deserve pestilence, famine, poverty, and hardship, but we also deserve eternal punishment in Hell for our sin.
Yet God in His mercy wanted us to have something better than what we deserve. That’s why He sent His Son. To go to the cross and pay for our sin. To give us the gift everlasting life. To reconcile us to our Father. To open the gates of Heaven to us.
In order to receive these blessings, we needed to be justified—forgiven—set free from our sin—declared righteous. To be justified, atonement needed to be rendered for our sin. And since we are already soiled with sin, we cannot make that payment. But Jesus could. So He became Man to pay for our sins and give us the gift of everlasting life.
What Jesus accomplished for us on Good Friday is truly remarkable. We can never repay Him for His willingness to die on our behalf. That is why we call this day Good. It would not have been good if God the Son simply died. But it is good that He died for you to take your sin away and grant you everlasting life.
We pray for these blessings when we pray, “But deliver us from evil.” For, “We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.”
“Learn from Jesus Christ to die.” We pray that God will grant us a blessed end and take us to Himself in Heaven.” How does He do this? By sending His Holy Spirit who works faith in us through the Word and Sacraments. For those outside the Word, no matter how much we may find them to be upstanding people, they will not die a blessed death. All who die apart from their Savior will die condemned.
We don’t simply pray, “Deliver me from evil,” but we pray, “Deliver us from evil.” We are praying not only for ourselves, but for others.
During these trying and uncertain times marked by COVID-19, we are certainly praying for the health and well-being of our loved ones. There is little that is more difficult than for us to endure the death of a loved one. The normal order is not to bury our children or grandchildren. However, we were not meant to bury our parents or our spouses, either. Death is not part of God’s perfect creation. Death is the result of sin, for the wages of sin is death. While we grieve and weep when loved ones die, we do not sorrow as those who have no hope. Even Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. But we know that we will not be separated from our loved ones who die in the faith forever. We join with them in Holy Communion, for there is one church in Heaven and on Earth. And when Jesus returns, we will live with them forever. We will be able to see and hug our loved ones.
All of this is possible because Jesus paid for our sins on the cross. Without this forgiveness, we would all suffer eternal death. And so, we keep on praying, “Deliver us from evil.”
In fact, the greatest evil is not to endure the death of loved ones, but the greatest evil is that they die apart from the Christian Faith. Those who are not Christian are already spiritually dead. They are lost to us already, even if we are pretending they are not. We do not have the same union with them as we do with our brothers and sisters in Christ. So don’t make excuses for their unbelief or pretend that all is fine with them just because they’re special to you and therefore you think God should love them. Instead, pray for them, that they will be delivered from evil. Teach them God’s Word. That is, place them in God’s hands and place God’s Word in their ears. Be bold in your witness of the faith. And do not stop. That is how you love them in Christ.
Not only did Jesus weep at the death of Lazarus (whom He would raise from the dead), but, as we heard in our reading from Hebrews 5:7, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.”
Jesus would often retreat to pray. He prayed on the night of His betrayal. And His Father heard Him.
The Father hears your prayers to. And He answers them according to His good and gracious will.
Why would Jesus pray so much? After all, He is the sinless Son of God. In John 17, He prayed for us—His Church. And we also heard in Hebrews 5:8, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” Jesus suffered here on earth. He lamented that the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. Herod tried to kill Him when He was a baby. His hometown rejected Him. He was ridiculed, mocked, and beaten, as we will soon hear in our Passion reading from St. John’s Gospel.
He learned obedience through what He suffered. And He prayed.
There’s no poison in the cup of suffering that we endure. It may be difficult and we may shed tears, but the suffering God sends has a purpose. He teaches us to bear our crosses and endure suffering for nothing can separate us from His love. Nothing. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
That can be said of our Savior when He suffered on the cross. This was His hour. He declared, “It is finished.” He fulfilled His Father’s will. He perfectly kept the Law and He offered the perfect payment for our sin. His suffering, as difficult as it was, had a purpose. So that you can go to the Father—so that you can be saved from your own sin—so that you can be a dear child of God.
For He is the source of eternal salvation. In Him is life. For death is swallowed up in victory. Jesus delivers you from evil and gives you life and salvation. You shall live, as He also lives. And so, we sing our praises to Him, who redeemed us, and grants us life. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen